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Published: Thursday, 1/26/2006

Ohio seeks 1st near-zero emissions coal power plant

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ohio is one of 20 states courting the U.S. Department of Energy for the right to build what could become America's first coal-fired power plant of the future.

The $1 billion "FutureGen" project would infuse southern or eastern Ohio with a lot of new money, as well as jobs. More than 1,000 workers would be needed during construction, as well as 100 jobs in research, operations, and other duties once the plant is running.

But the biggest selling point - and the one that has attracted the support of the Ohio Environmental Council - is that it wouldn't pollute.

Coal-fired power plants are a source of dirty energy production and among the biggest sources of smog-forming nitrogen oxide, sooty particulate matter, mercury, and acid rain.

The project calls for the "world's first near-zero emissions power plant," according to state officials wooing the Energy Department.

Coal would be turned into highly enriched hydrogen gas, which can then be burned more cleanly than coal itself. Carbon dioxide, a source of global warming, would be compressed into liquid and injected underground.

The Ohio Environmental Council, outspoken in its views on coal-fired power, is impressed. The group announced on Jan. 19 that it supports the project, and has joined the Ohio FutureGen Task Force to help court the Energy Department.

More details will be released today in Columbus by Republican National Committee co-chairman Jo Ann Davidson, a former Ohio House speaker who is presiding over the task force.

Others include Mark Shanahan, executive director of the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority, and Jacqueline Bird, Ohio Coal Development Office director.

Mr. Shanahan told The Blade yesterday that Ohio, Texas, and Illinois are top contenders. Ohio and Texas derive much of their energy from coal. Texas is a leader in sequestering carbon and injecting it deep underground, mostly in abandoned oil and gas fields. Yet Ohio may have some geological advantages for that means of disposal, as well as its efficient and centralized transportation network, he said.

At 275 megawatts, the FutureGen plant would only produce a little more than a quarter of the electricity produced by FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ottawa County and a little more than a third of FirstEnergy's coal-fired Bay Shore power plant near Oregon.

But supporters say the state that lands the project could become the nation's leader for a new type of energy that helps relieve America of its growing dependence on foreign oil and natural gas.

"This is going to be an international research platform," Mr. Shanahan said.

The project's first 10 years are to be devoted to construction and research. In the plant's 11th year and all subsequent ones, it would put electricity on the transmission grid.

The Energy Department is to decide in 2007 which state gets the plant, Mr. Shanahan said.

Coal is a plentiful energy-producing fossil fuel. The government estimates that the United States has enough coal for hundreds of years, more than any nation except Russia.

"Coal is a source of energy we can control. It's not in regional conflict," Mr. Shanahan said.

The drawback is its environmental hazards. Coal in southern Ohio has a high sulfur content, making it less marketable than coal from Wyoming and other Western states, Mr. Shanahan said.

Initiated in 2003 by President Bush, FutureGen is expected to need $700 million in government funds, plus $250 million from power and coal companies.

The Ohio task force has selected Stark, Carroll, Tuscarawas, Coshocton, Athens, Meigs, Hamilton, and Clermont counties for consideration. Northwest Ohio counties were excluded because there is no coal here.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.


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